COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The weather turned foul early on Friday afternoon, roughly three hours before the US national team got a glimpse of the site of what would become one of the strangest soccer games in recent memory.
Set against the backdrop of a driving snowstorm that nearly put the game in the deep freeze, Clint Dempsey scored an opportunistic first-half goal and a makeshift but hardy backline did the rest, handing the Americans a 1-0 win over Costa Rica at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Friday night in a memorable World Cup qualifier.
The win gives the US their first three points heading into the next qualifier next Tuesday in Mexico City, where they’ll take on a Mexican team that settled for a 2-2 draw against Honduras earlier on Friday and now has two points through two games.
Dempsey’s goal was one of few chances on the night for either team, and the only US shot on goal as snow piled as high as three inches on the field.
Forward Jozy Altidore took possession of the ball just outside the box in the 16th minute than and fired a shot from just outside the box. The ball deflected off Costa Rican defender Roy Miller and directly into the path of a wide-open Dempsey, who buried a point-blank shot past Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Costa Rica controlled the tempo for much of the second half but never found the final touch, and had a goal from Álvaro Saborío called off in the 70th minute for off side.
Brad Guzan picked up the shutout in goal for the US, who rode the back line of fullbacks Geoff Cameron and DaMarcus Beasley and central pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson. Guzan finished with three saves on the night, but easily snuffed out chances from Ticos defender Bryan Oviedo in the 38th minute Saborío in the 60th.
The US nearly padded their lead in the 59th minute off the foot of Dempsey, who ripped a scissor volley just wide of the post off a cross from Graham Zusi.
Both teams struggled to create genuine scoring chances throughout the night, in large part because of adverse weather conditions that forced head referee Joel Aguilar to pause the game in order for lines to be shoveled. He waved the game to a halt in the 55th minute, but after two minutes of stoppage and heated conversation with representatives from both the US and Costa Rica, the game resumed. Game officials later said they never intended to postpone the game, only to pause for a short delay to clear the end lines and side lines.
With the win, the US are second in the Hexagonal with three points after two games. Honduras are on top with four points, while Panama, Jamaica and Mexico have two points each. Costa Rica are last with one points from two games, but are the only team that have yet to play at home.